There is no better way to celebrate Memorial Day than to do something to thank the people the holiday was created to honor; United States military veterans.
Returning to civilian life is not always easy for people who have served. Some have a hard time getting work. Some who have experienced war have a hard time coming to terms with their experiences. Some are injured. Some have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that can linger for years.
And people still serving in the military face challenges every day. Some are separated from family for long periods of time. Some deal with serious financial hardship. Some just endure long, uneventful deployments far from home and could use some contact and creature comforts.
Here are ways you can extend gratitude to a veteran in honor of Memorial Day this weekend.
1. Give a vet a ride to the hospital
The Puget Sound has a number of facilities for veterans, but not all veterans live within a bus ride or walk of a such a facility. Through the Puget Sound VA, you can volunteer to drive veterans to appointments and facility designations. You’ll have to have a good driving record and an occupational health physical exam. To learn more, see here.
2. Volunteer at the VA
There are many ways to volunteer through the Puget Sound VA. Serve as a customer service volunteers, answering questions and greeting arrivals. Offer respite, giving the caregivers of homebound veterans a break. Between 14 and 18? Volunteer through the Summer Youth Program. There are posts available at the Seattle or American Lake Medical Center of the VA Puget Sound Health Care System. For more info, see here.
3. Donate frequent flier miles
If a veteran is injured, the Fisher House Foundation helps families get to them to be close through injury, illness or disease. You can donate your frequent flier miles to help bring loved ones to the side of a ill or injured veteran. Visit http://fisherhouse.org/.
4. Help keep veterans from becoming homeless
If you know or have encountered a veteran who is homeless or is at risk of becoming homeless, call 877-4AID-VET, or 877-424-3838, to be connected 24 hours a day, seven days a week with help at the VA. The VA has set a goal of eliminating homelessness among veterans by 2015.
5. Send a care package
Sending care packages to people currently serving is a well established practice. But there are organizations working to send care packages to veterans at home. Operation Gratitude is an organizations that has sent more than a million care packages to veterans, and has a goal of getting such a package to every single living Vietnam veteran. You can make a gift to the program at http://www.operationgratitude.com/.
But don’t ignore those currently serving. There’s nothing quite like getting a package form home for someone halfway around the world. Get a service member’s address from the Kitchen Table Gang and send a box of gifts and notes of thanks to someone currently a long way from home, or someone in the hospital. Visit www.soldierpackages.org.
6. Fly along with a vet
The Honor Flight Network helps World War II veterans make it to the World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington D.C. The program needs people to volunteer to fly along with veterans to see the memorial. Learn more here.
7. Make a gift to Horses Healing Heroes
Horses Healing Heroes is a horse ranch in Sultan for veterans with PTSD. Horses are used to help soldiers with Post-Traumatic Stress Injury, traumatic-brain injury, and military sexual trauma. Veterans can spend time caring for horses and doing activities with them. Learn more here.
8. Foster a pet
Veterans who are recovering from injury need someone to look after the pets. Currently Tails From the Front Lines is seeking people able and willing to foster cats in Washington and Oregon. To learn more, see here.
9. Donate your old cell phone
Many, many people have at least one cell phone around that is not being used. It could be used by a veteran. Cell Phones for Soldiers will pay for an hour of talk time for each phone shipped overseas. See cellphonesforsoldiers.com.
10. Support local military parents-to-be
Operation Homefront has a program called Star Spangled Babies that gets gifts of baby items for military personnel who are expecting children. The organization throws baby showers for expectant moms, just like any baby shower, with games and prizes and fun and lots of gifts. To see how you can help, go to www.operationhomefront.net.